Friday, September 26, 2014

Arctic Tiger Nut Crop Experiment

Lots of talk this year about tiger nuts.  Surely you've heard of them by now.  These are not nuts, but the root tubers of a type of sedge grass that helped man become man.  Our earliest ancestors ate them, the ancient Egyptians raised them, they are still enjoyed all over the world today.

UPDATE July 2015!

Pics of some tiger nuts I am growing this summer.  I planted them by the handful in a heap of sand. They seem to love this method, and it gives me some ideas.  Here's a picture, the tiger nuts are the grassy mound in the center, surrounded by corn and wildcucumbers, lol:




Tiger nuts can be purchased from several places, my favorite place to buy them is from the Chief Nut himself at Tigernuts USA. He will personally call you to recommend you soak them before eating and answer any questions you may have...seriously.



Anyway, not to rehash the tiger nut story, but if you still have no clue what I'm talking about, here are four great articles on tiger nuts:
Long-story short:  Healthy food, full of RS, even good for your teeth!  Full of Omega 3 and we have been eating them, as a species, for millions of years.

For some strange reason, I stuck a couple tiger nuts into a potted fern in my living room last Winter.  Much to my surprise, they grew!  The wheels started spinning and as Winter turned to Spring, I ordered a couple pounds of tiger nuts destined for my garden.

Now, Alaska isn't the normal habitat of these equatorial plants, they are more at home on the African Savannah.  Not one to be deterred, I planted a row.  They grew, I watered them, weeded them, and watched them.  I planted the tiger nuts on June 1st when the soil temperature was about 55 degrees and they grew up until the first hard frosts in early September, about 90 days later.  Websites on tiger nut growing indicate they need about 120 days to mature, but we have 24 hours of sunlight, which sometimes help tip the balance in our favor.

I planted two varieties:  The organic, unpeeled tiger nuts that TigerNutUSA sells to eat for $13.99 for 12oz, and some from Seed World sold as deer and turkey food for $3.99 a pound.  But they can also be bought at Our True Roots for $12.99 for 12oz.  The germination rates and yields were identical between the two varieties, so I'd recommend using the cheaper brand to plant.

These were both varieties known as Cyperus Esculentus, however there may be other varieties in the wild or even sold as seeds.  They are classified as weeds and said to be invasive, so maybe plant a small plot your first time or do some asking, but I can think of worse things to take over our countryside! 

The blurb at Seed World says their product is organic, non-GMO and:



Chufas are a perennial sedge that is one of the most popular foods for wild turkeys. Chufa plants have underground tubers, which are part of the plant that turkeys eat. One chufas tuber will produce a plant that can grow to 15-75 tubers when mature. Turkeys find the tubers by scratching them from just under the surface of the ground. The tubers are high in protein and fat, which makes them especially nutritious for wild turkeys. Chufa can also make an excellent food source for other wildlife including deer and ducks.

Chufa plants grow well in the southern half of the US from Northern California across to Southern Iowa and even Southern Pennsylvania. Chufa plants grow in a variety of soil, but perform best on well-drained, sandy or loamy soils. Clay soils can support chufa. When growing in clay soils, lightly turn the soil in the fall to expose the tubers. This practice can be done periodically to extend the food supply into winter and early spring. Simply plow several strips twice a month until the entire field has been plowed. Generally, chufa will grow anywhere that corn can be successfully grown.
Tiger nuts need soft, sandy soil.  You'll see why in a bit, I can't imagine harvesting them from hard, clay soil, but who knows?  They are a weed, after all:

With high populations of [tiger nuts], allelopathy can suppress the growth of young corn, soybean, and other crop plants. A density of about 10 [tiger nut] plants per square foot reduces corn yields about 8%. Each plant can produce hundreds to thousands of tubers per season, and in densely infested fields, this adds up to 10 to 32 million tubers per acre. Rhizomes can penetrate potato tubers.


Here's my attempt at 'growing my own':


Tiger nuts in mid-growing season

Tiger nut root and tuber progression, mid-season

Tiger nuts after a hard frost, potato hills to the left, tomatoes to the right

Tiger nuts, dug and ready to harvest

Dirt washed off, showing root nutlets

Picked and cleaned tiger nuts

Kale, collards and chard after several weeks of hard frost!  Very hardy plants.



So there you have it.  How I grew a crop of tiger nuts in Northern Alaska.  The nuts are very crisp and tasty even raw and plucked right from the ground.  With all those roots, you can imagine the sheer amount of Soil Based Organisms (probiotic microbes) that are found on minimally washed tiger nuts as our forefathers would have eaten them.  Tiger nuts can be dried and stored for months and years.  They are nearly as nutritious as meat.

I ended up eating all of my tiger nuts raw, I have bags full of dried tiger nuts from Chief Nut, so I figured I'd enjoy these like Nutcracker Man.  Some say I look a bit like him:


Later!
Tim

41 comments:

  1. Great Work..
    How much water/watering do they need..? And, did you feed the plants in any way.? Any known plant diseases/insects that like them as much as we do.?

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    1. I just treated them like everything else. Nothing special. They seem to be pest free.

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  2. james paleo hill duffSeptember 26, 2014 at 6:24 AM

    Love the post Tim! Wonder if tiger nuts are nutrtionally best raw though, rs would be rs2 and most starches seem to be cooked. Not educated on these by any means though!

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    1. Hard to say. Tiger nuts seem to be traditionally eaten raw, though, as in dried or made into horchata. I noticed that as they dry, they get a lot sweeter, so the starch must rapidly convert to sugar on drying.

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  3. Hi Tim, thanks for the article! I have been thinking that I should try growing them. How many pounds did you harvest, and how long was the row? They look similar to an ornamental grass or sedge I have growing here already. Maybe I will dig one of those up and see if there are any nuts on the roots.

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    1. I planted a 40' row with 2 pounds of seeds. I harvested about 5 pounds. It was a fun experiment.

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    2. Do you think you got enough bang for your buck in that 40-foot row, Tim? 5 lbs. from 2 lbs. seed seems like a small return (i.e. you invested 2 lbs. seed, water, space to get 5 lb. return) even though the tiger nuts are so nutritious.

      I was thinking about devoting some space to growing these, too. Will you grow them again?

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    3. Considering a can get about 200lbs of potatoes from 5lbs of seed, it wasn't much of a cash crop. It was just fun. I was curious to see how they grew and how hard to harvest. I can see why these would have been popular with hunter-gatherers, though.

      If I have some spare tiger nuts next spring I will definitely plant them again. I would probably be more tempted to plant them in a short, wide row, though, rather than a long row. They would be prefect in a raised bed with very loose soil.

      You should try them. They are amazingly crunchy when fresh. They really POP when you bite them. I was driving my wife crazy when I was eating them.

      You know, though, most of what I grow in my garden is not cost-effective if you just look at prices, but it's priceless to me to have fresh produce where I control every aspect of growth and harvest. I just ate my last cabbage tonight, and maybe another week or two of kale.

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    4. Tim, have you considered a trial patch of your garden given over to a permaculture type of set-up? You might find it interesting to put some plants together in a guild and some in rows, and look for differences in growth habit and flavour. Or even Hugelkulture, man!

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    5. Thanks, Tim. Most likely I will try them. I haven't ordered any yet, but I plan to soon.

      As for garden produce being cost effective, I have to say when I look at the prices for heirloom tomatoes, cukes, kale, and collards at the farmers market and/or grocery, my gardening partners and I are saving a bundle by growing our own even considering the labor involved. We are overwhelmed right now with produce, and I'm fermenting and dehydrating like mad to keep up. I'll be able to pick fresh kale and collards well into winter (I'm in eastern Washington). As you said, though, it's absolutely priceless to be able to control the process, at least as much as Nature allows us to.

      Wildcucumber, we are slowly incorporating permaculture principles in our garden (I took a course 2 years ago). And, we have two hugel beds!

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    6. My big issue is that I like to grow lots of potatoes and they need to be grown in a new area every year. I rotate them through the garden so they never get grown in the same spot for 3 or 4 years.

      I like to use 'wide-rows' when I can (carrots, beets, lettuce, all greens, beans, peas) and single rows only for tomatoes, squash, sunflowers, corn, and cabbages. I grow some plants through black plastic mulch.

      Raised beds are very popular here as they capture more heat. I have an irrigation system that pumps water out of the river, which is about 30 degrees warmer than our well-water, and also have a rain water capturing system.

      I just wish we had more than 90 days to grow stuff!

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  4. boy that soil looks gray,what kind of soil is that,,volcanic?

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  5. Oh yes tell us about the soil. I guess it is of volcanic origin, worked on by glaciers, flooded by the river and fertilized by dead fish.

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    1. It's glacial silt. I live in an ancient river bed formed from melting glaciers 30,000 years ago. The silt is about 4-8 feet deep on top of crushed gravel then bedrock at 30 feet. It's just wonderful for growing a garden in, but does not hold water very well, so requires a bit of watering through the season.

      The first couple years were the worst, but I have incorporated lots of chicken and moose poop, grass clippings and vegetation into the soil, so it gets better every year.

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  6. How invasive are they? It looks like they spread through the root system and go fairly deep. It will be interesting to see how many you have next spring. It reminds me a bit of Jerusalem artichokes. A fellow at the community garden has some that he harvests every year and they keep coming back.

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    1. Tiger nuts (Cyperus esculentus var. sativas) were one of the oldest crops that were cultivated in Egypt. They were found in the tombs of Ancient Egyptians—along with some of the oldest recorded recipes. But, it took a little bit of engineering. See, there are a few different varieties of C. esculentus and the wild ones are too weedy to plant near other crops. In fact, C. esculentus is illegal to plant for commercial harvest in the United States, as it is considered an invasive weed. Although this has to do with confusion between the varieties as the variety sativas—which was first cultivated by the Egyptians and later the Spaniards—is not weedy or invasive.

      Here, read this paper (free registration):

      Chufa (Cyperus esculentus, Cyperaceae): A Weedy Cultivar or a Cultivated Weed?

      As you can see, if you plant just a single wild/weedy tuber, they will overrun your farm in 3 years! It makes it impossible to farm anything else. According to the paper, it’s a wonderful crop, as long as you have the right sub-species (i.e. variety).

      Basically there are a few different kinds of C. esculentus. All but one are a true weed, but one is actually a cultivar (variety: sativas). “Sativas” refers to “sown” or “cultivated”. The weedy ones have flowers and the cultivated ones rarely ever do. The “chufas” from Spain are of this cultivated variety. But, most farmers are terrified of all C. esculentus due to all the weedy varieties and all of them are currently classified by the USDA as “invasive” despite this confusion. So, it’s illegal to plant for commercial harvest anywhere but Spain, as far as I know.

      So, the Egyptians domesticated the sativas variety it so that the shoots would grow down, rather than out to the sides. The paper, above, calls for this variety to be made legal. However, I believe the paper mentions that the cultivated tiger nuts prefer a warm environment, and a specific kind of soil—which Valencia, Spain is famous for. However, they are not winter-proof like the weedy ones are.

      Interesting, the Paleo Indians who ate C. esculentus were known to keep them away from their maize and sorghum. They harvested weedy ones from a nearby marsh and dared not mix them with their crops.

      I will also point out that they are a pain to deal with on an mass-production agricultural level. You need special equipment to dig them out of the ground as a tractor moves over them—whereas our ancestors loosened up each bunch by hand. They also need to be properly dried and turned if they aren’t going to be eaten fresh, to prevent molds from growing.

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    2. Thanks allot Duck for this info. Here I was going to encourage a friend to try this out as a cash-crop (small scale). Still I might plant a few in my own backyard garden, just to see what happens.

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    3. Thanks, Duck!

      I wonder how tiger nuts would compare to corn or soybeans grown as a main cash crop? Their planting and harvesting are quite different. As a fun thing in a garden, give it a try...the worst that can happen is you introduce a new weed. I can't imagine them being more troublesome than all the other weeds I have growing in my garden.

      I'm surprised that Seed World can sell these seeds if they are so noxious. There were no warnings or limits on where they could be planted.

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  7. The weedy nut sedges border on being immortal. I've been fighting a patch here in sandy Florida for months yet new leaves pop up daily. I dug out as many nuts as possible, but the ones in the tree roots are too hard to get at so now it's a war of attrition. The tubers are a great tactic from an evolutionary perspective because they allow strong green leaves to literally appear overnight rather than a spindly seedling. I love the peeled commercial tiger nuts, though they are very fibrous (which is the point, of course!)

    Energy!

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  8. Great Blog Tim,

    If you would like to try Tiger Nuts then may we humbly suggest that you visit our web site www.tigernutsusa.com or e-mail us at nuts@tigernutsusa.com if you have any questions!

    We have the traditional Premium Organic Tiger Nuts that have been around for over 4000 year and our patented Supreme Peeled Tiger Nuts which are probably the "healthiest 'single source' snack food on the market", and here's the link to the "Buy Now " page: http://tigernutsusa.com/tiger-nuts

    Yours in Health,

    Jack - Chief Nut at www.tigernutsusa.com - nuts@tigernutsusa.com




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  9. Two questions: 1. are the nuts from the two companies identical, i,e, ourtrueroots and tigernutUSA? You seem to have a preference for the latter so I am wondering why this may be. 2. Do the unpeeled require any prep? And if so, why are they even offered unpeeled? Thanks!!!

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    1. I have not tried the ones from OurTrueRoots yet, I just wanted to include them as a balance for prices. I am familiar with the ones from TigerNutsUSA, having eaten about 5 pounds now...

      The unpeeled ones, for eating, are much better when you soak overnight. Right from the bag they are pretty hard. Some people prefer them like this, I like them soaked better.

      But, my real preference is the peeled ones, right from the bag.

      If you buy some of the unpeeled ones, try soaking a big handful overnight, then toast them until almost burnt in a hot pan, maybe even with a tad of oil. Once toasted, they take on a whole new flavor and texture.

      Also, with the unpeeled, you can make horchata. You'll find lots of recipes on line.

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    2. Thanks for that, Tim! I have a further question. The OurTrueRoots people say the peeled ones (which I have had and I LOVE quite frankly) are "peeled" via a severe chemical treatment and are not even organic. Do you have any thoughts on this chemical process? I did notice the word organic does not appear on the peeled bag but is prominently displayed on the unpeeled. And thank you for the roasting tip; I will try! Does the heat remove any of their nutritional value?

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    3. Hmmm. That makes me wonder about the peeled ones! I hope they are still good for us. I just looked at my bag of peeled Tiger Nut USA's and they don't say 'organic' either, isn't that strange?

      When I dug my tiger nuts up, I found that if you blasted them with water, and scrubbed a bit under running water, the peels came right off. I figured that's how they must do it at the tiger nut factory. Maybe I'm wrong.

      Sounds like it's the peeling process that negates the organic label.

      The peeled ones are much easier to eat, though.

      Try toasting up some of the unpeeled ones, you may like even better than the peeled kind.

      I can't see why toasting would do anything to the nutritional value, if anything, maybe adds to it.

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    4. Hey Tim,

      Our hugely popular Supreme Peeled Tiger Nuts, exclusively licensed to Tiger Nuts USA, do not contain any harmful chemicals and for those in doubt, absolutely no chemicals are used in any part of our grower’s patented peeling process. And to be totally clear, Tiger Nuts USA are the only company in the whole of the United States that can
      supply you with this product. As you know you can get these amazing Supreme Peeled Tiger Nuts at www.tigernutsusa.com

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    5. Hi, Jack! Thanks for the info. So your competitor, True Roots, doesn't sell 'peeled' tiger nuts and they maybe just trying to persuade people not to buy from TigerNutsUSa? That's kind of dirty!

      I was thinking about this. I was calling around asking why no organic potato starch...a manufacturer told me that starch can't be called 'organic' in its own right, but it can be made from organic potatoes.

      Maybe you can put somewhere on the package, 'Made from 100% organic tiger nuts.' Not sure how all the labeling laws work.

      Thanks!

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  10. AhhHah...I have been wondering why you could only get unpeeled organic. I too prefer the peeled

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  11. I soaked some overnight and it made a world of difference; tender sweet, easy to chew and enjoy so will be fine with the unpeeled soaked. The only thing I don't know is how long they last without spoiling or getting moldy after they have been soaked and exactly how best to store the soaked, Tim?

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    1. Probably you could store soaked tiger nuts in the fridge for quite some time, maybe dry them a bit and store in an open bowl.

      OK, now try toasting them! Put a handful in a hot frying pan and just kind of keep moving them around as the heat up. Get them really hot, almost scorched. Would maybe even work better in an oven on 400.

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    2. I soak my tiger nuts in the fridge in a mason jar. I've had a forgotten jar soaking in there for two weeks without any problems. The tiger nuts still smelled and tasted fresh.
      I usually soak them for two or three days, then drain the water for snacking. Same story — they stay fresh for quite a while.

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    3. Hey Tim — Won't toasting destroy whatever RS2 the tiger nuts have?

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  12. Tim (or anybody else)

    Do you see any problem with eating the tiger nuts from Seed World? I bought some and they taste pretty much like the Organic Gemini version (referred to by Tom Naughton); tasty, and I like them unsoaked mostly, though I have soaked some in some homemade yogurt (from raw milk) and they were good too).

    I can't see any problem with eating them, but was trying to determine if there's some unforeseen issue. Seed World can't recommend that, I'm sure, as there's no doubt some govt regulatory hoops to jump through (and associated costs) to make them eligible for sale for human consumption.

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  13. I was just wondering the same thing...

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  14. Hey Tim, from the SeedWorld site they say, "One chufas tuber will produce a plant that can grow to 15-75 tubers when mature." Seems like grown commercially, one should be able to get 15-75 Lbs. of yield from one pound of tiger nuts.

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  15. Hey Nathan and Joseph! Glad you liked this blog and Tiger Nuts. I love them, and in fact, just ate a handful yesterday from some growing in my garden. I am amazed at the hardiness of the seeds. These were unpeeled tiger nuts from TigerNutsUSA that had been in my freezer for 6 months before planting. They grow very fast.

    As far as eating seed tiger nuts vs those sold as food grade, the only thing I would wonder about is if those sold as seed are treated with a fungicide or pesticides. They may be just fine, but eating ones sold as food items at least comes with a bit of peace-of-mind that they are inspected and must pass some quality control.

    So, I guess, it's up to you. Maybe you could call the manufacturer and ask his opinion.

    As to RS in tiger nuts, it appears there is not much RS in the tiger nuts sold. The RS is more than likely only found in fresh, not dried tiger nuts. When I grow them, eaten right from the ground, they are very bland tasting, like a potato. After a week or two of drying, they are sweet like a raisin. This tells me that the starch is converting to sugars, just like in a banana.

    Don't get me wrong, though. There are many more health benefits to tiger nuts than RS. They are full of other fibers, minerals, etc... EAT UP!

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    1. " fungicide or pesticides"

      Yeah, that's what I was thinking about. Although they are sold as organic and thus presumably they are clean. I'll shoot them an email and try to find out.

      Of course what I really need to do is get started growing them, but I'm trying to figure out the best way to do so that won't cause me an invasive headache in the future.

      Thanks for your opinion.

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    2. I went back to the website and though I thought I saw the reference to "organic" I must have been thinking of something else, because I'm not seeing it now. But it does say this: "Our chufa seeds are all natural untreated and Non-GMO."

      That's probably the best I'll get from them, as they're not going to go on the record as saying they're OK for human consumption, I'm sure.

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    3. Try planting them in a raised box with very sandy soil. Not sure your living situation, farm/city/etc...

      I had a cooler full of sand that I kept carrots in all winter. This spring, I dumped a bunch of tiger nuts in the sand to pre-sprout them. Then dumped the whole pile of sand in the middle of my garden. You should see it now, huge masses of tiger nuts growing in the pile of sand. Gave me a good idea of making a planter box, about 4'X4' and filling it with sand just for tiger nuts.

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    4. Hey Tim - can you post a picture? I've learned from sunchokes just how "invasive" invasive can be. But if they can be contained and they're reasonably attractive, I might give them a go.

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